G/T elementary students in Lafayette were among those who urged BESE to save the program.
After receiving a barrage of calls and e-mails from worried and outraged parents and students in the Gifted and Talented Program across southwest Louisiana — “to the tune of probably 300 or more” — District 7 Board of Elementary and Secondary Education member Dale Bayard says G/T in Louisiana is safe, as far as he’s concerned.
“First off,” Bayard says, “I am absolutely against changing the Gifted and Talented Program. Secondly, in our quest to continue to improve education, it would seem to me that we need to push the current high achievers and push other students into the high-achievement level.”
The brouhaha over eliminating the Gifted and Talented Program has its genesis in opposition to G/T by the Louisiana Association of Special Education Administrators, which last spring sent a letter to the state Department of Education. In it, the association’s then-president, Susan Vaughn, wrote, “We question the ability of anyone to prove that a student with a 4.0 GPA needs special education services because his educational performance is significantly affected. Rather, we believe that all students should have the opportunity to be challenged by curriculum and instruction that pushes them to reach their potential.”
Gifted/Talented programs statewide are administered through special education, and the association that represents special ed administrators argues that G/T siphons resources from children with learning disabilities who comprise the vast majority of special education students statewide. There are about 23,000 G/T students in Louisiana.
State law mandates that special education students are entitled to an Individualized Education Program and that instructional programs be offered for free. By removing G/T from special ed, G/T students wouldn’t be entitled to an IEP. A source at the Lafayette Parish School System says opposition to G/T comes mainly from superintendents and special-ed coordinators in rural parishes, which struggle to fund additional classes for G/T students. But LPSS spokeswoman Angie Simoneaux says the Lafayette school system fully supports G/T programs in the parish and is opposed to changes or elimination of G/T.
That position is backed by Melinda Mangham, a retired Lafayette Parish teacher who administered the Gifted program at Lafayette High School, which has the highest concentration of G/T students in the parish. “I just can’t even conceive of doing away with something that has been as successful as this program is,” Mangham says. “I have taught in some of the best schools in the state, and I just cannot tell you what an incredible program the Gifted program is. And I can tell you not only is it an incredible program for the kids that are in the Gifted program, but it is an incredible program for the teachers.”
Lafayette Parish has roughly 1,400 students in G/T — about 1,200 in Gifted, which serves students who excel in academics, and the remainder in Talented, designed for high achievers in the arts. Mangham argues G/T teaches critical life skills. “You’re teaching kids to think,” she says. “We know these kids are going to change not jobs but careers maybe six times in their lifetimes. And they’re going to invent their jobs. So if we don’t teach these kids how to be critical thinkers, how to be creative, we’re in big trouble.”
The issue has only slowly come to the attention of parents of G/T students, and to the teachers who educate them. When word that the special-ed association was trying to get G/T removed from special education protections — a move that many believe would effectively kill G/T — Gifted and Talented teachers in Lafayette Parish sent an urgent letter to parents:
We have recently been informed of possible changes to be made to the way that gifted and talented students receive services. Currently, your child is guaranteed services through their [Individualized Education Program], and funding for gifted and talented services comes from the State Department of Education.
The State Special Education Directors Group and the State Superintendents are in support of removing Gifted and Talented programs from the protection of the Special Education umbrella. Both groups advocate making gifted and talented services a “local option”, subject to budget cuts and funding issues. They also advocate removing the guarantee of services for gifted and talented students. If this happens, your child is in danger of losing their rights to gifted and talented services. The gifted and talented program would certainly be interrupted, lessened, or probably cease to exist altogether.
You have a strong voice as a parent and voter. Please take the time to let BESE and our local school board know that they should vote to keep Bulletin 1706 as written and protect the rights of our children. Our programs have been an avenue for ALL Louisiana gifted and talented students to receive the educational services they need to grow and prosper.
Thanks for your support of our program and of your gifted child.”
Bayard says changes to G/T are unlikely because of widespread opposition to even broaching the idea among BESE members. “I do believe at least seven of my colleagues, or maybe six of my colleagues, have said they don’t want to change it. Six is a simple majority, and counting me would be seven.”
There had been talk of putting the topic onto BESE’s October agenda, which has not yet been released. Bayard has his doubts the topic will even make the agenda: “The Department of Education would be doing the right thing to just eliminate [it from the agenda] completely. Why discuss it — especially if it’s going to be dead in the water?”
In the meantime, BESE members continue to get hammered by parents and students in the G/T Program. As one elementary student in Lafayette Parish’s talent program put it in a letter to BESE obtained by The Independent: “I think this idea is the WORST idea in the world. Kind of like your jumping into a pit of lava. I love theatre cause life is a picture with colors. But if we didn’t have Talented theatre the colors would be gone and we would all die.
MAY 21 Gambit columnist Clancy DuBos writes about the Mother's Day shooting, and how the stages of shock and blame and healing mirror those traveled by the same city following Hurricane Katrina. The city will recover, just as it did following the storm, by reaching out to help the people injured most seriously by the event, DuBos writes. It's how we heal, he says.
MAY 21 Here's a post on the Advocate (but buried on a subpage, not on the front) that reports something Louisiana Voice reported some time ago: a top DOE official lives in Los Angeles and "commutes" to Baton Rouge. The positioning of the story caused a stir on Facebook Monday, with several posters asking if the Advocate was covering someone's hiney. Sentell's stories on DOE are notoriously soft, and this one is no different: don't expect any hard questions in here.
MAY 21 Here's another post from blogger Tom Aswell about the "course choice" program. He's already reported on kids being signed up without their consent or knowledge, and has more here: For example, he tells of a six-year-old who was signed up for high school Latin. He also digs a little deeper into the sister companies of the main one operating in Louisiana; all of them seem to have complaints against them. Stinky.
MAY 21 Given the 80 percent cut in higher ed funding since he's been in office, it's clear Gov. Jindal would rather give tax cuts to out of state companies than have a functioning system, blogger Dayne Sherman argues in this post. The cuts have been such a disaster, Sherman says, that it will take 30 years to fix what's been broken. He says he believes the aim is to shut down most of the schools before Jindal leaves in 2016.
MAY 21 Blogger CB Forgotston says there are too many elections in Louisiana, and they're costing us too much money. The proof is in the pudding: turnout for most of these nonsensical pollings gets worse and worse, CB opines, even as millions of dollars that could be spent on health care or higher ed go down the tubes. The legislature must take action to stem the tide of pointless elections, he says.
MAY 21 Here's an interesting investigative piece by WVUE on the retirement benefits of some Jefferson Parish public employees. According to the story, the taxpayers are paying 100 percent of the retirement contributions of employees who started work prior to a certain date in April 1986 -- and have done for more than 30 years. It costs the parish millions annually, and might not be legal, the story reports.
MAY 21 This post on Bayou Buzz provides insight from Louisiana's intrepid pollster, Bernie Pinsonat, on the winners and losers from this year's legislative session. But to hear Bernie tell it, there's almost nuttin but losers: Jindal, the Republican party, the Fiscal Hawks all get big goose eggs in his win column.
MAY 20 This post on The Lens takes a look at a huge (either $500K or $250K) bill that one NOLA charter now has for school lunches. The RSD says the charter group didn't fill out the proper paperwork for federal reimbursement, but the story details how the RSD didn't ensure the people running the charter had the proper training, despite requests from hapless charter employees trying to fill out forms. Either way, somebody's asleep at the wheel.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.